It took 102 games -- three fewer than any Cubs team had gone in a season without this accomplishment (done in 1966) -- but the Chicago Cubs, after failing nine times after two straight victories, finally have won three in a row during the 2011 season.
The Houston Astros were the victim of the Cubs' three-game streak, also their first three-game sweep of the year (they did sweep a two-game set from the Marlins in Miami in May). The 5-4, 10-inning Cubs win over Houston was not the type of game you show young players and say "Play this way"; quite the opposite, in fact. But, a win is a win, and now the three-game-streak monkey is off the Cubs' back. That's a small simian compared to some, but in this drudge of a season, we Cubs fans -- and I'm sure the players -- will take it. The win gave the Cubs a 5-5 homestand and a winning record (5-4) over the Astros so far this season.
Before I recap this game -- and tell you about some rumors I've heard -- I wanted to mention, and unfortunately I don't have any photos of this so you'll just have to believe me: just after it stopped raining, and right after the gates opened, Ryan Dempster and Sean Marshall were fooling around in left field throwing a football around. Marshall, in particular, has excellent form and put some really nice spirals on the ball. With his height he'd probably make a good quarterback. Dempster looked good in the WR role. Just having fun, I suppose -- and why not, in a season that's pretty much a lost cause. After the rain passed, the sun came out and it actually got hot and sticky for a while. In fact, "hot and sticky" describes this mess of a game pretty well.
Matt Garza had his fourth straight excellent outing at Wrigley Field, dating back to the July 2 game vs. the White Sox (his one road start in that time, at Washington, I won't mention). In those four starts he's now thrown 32 innings and allowed four earned runs for a 1.13 ERA. He's got a loss and three no-decisions to show for that performance; in that time he's issued 11 walks, struck out 27 and allowed just one home run -- today, in the first inning, to Clint Barmes, who (perhaps not coincidentally) was the only member of the current Astros team to have homered off him in the past. Garza also got his first MLB RBI today, on a nicely placed single down the right field line in the Cubs' three-run second inning.
After that, Garza settled down and gave up just one more run and left with a 3-2 lead, which Jeff Samardzija promptly coughed up by allowing a walk, followed by a home run to Carlos Lee. This raises the question: where was Kerry Wood in that eighth inning? That's supposed to be Wood's role, eighth-inning setup, but Wood has not pitched in that role since before the All-Star break (July 9 at Pittsburgh), and hasn't thrown at all since Monday night against the Phillies. He didn't even get off his bullpen chair today. Granted, he has had some bad outings in recent days -- has Mike Quade lost confidence in him?
The Cubs came back and tied the game on three singles in the eighth, but could score no further despite having the go-ahead run on second base with nobody out. A failed sacrifice by Darwin Barney -- seriously, he has to get that done -- a fly out and a strikeout ended that rally. The Cubs also failed to score in the ninth, as did the Astros off Carlos Marmol; Marmol was a bit shaky but got out of the inning striking out Hunter Pence with the lead run on third base and one out, then getting Lee to fly to center.
John Grabow got into trouble in the 10th, but got out of it with a nice double play ball and that set up the winning rally.
As befits a game between two bad teams, two good outfielders made a ridiculously bad play to set up the inning. Marlon Byrd's fly ball, if you were following Pence and Michael Bourn running after it, looked like it was going to split them in right-center field. Instead, it landed about 40 feet to Pence's right -- looked like both outfielders lost it in the sun and had absolutely no idea where it was. Byrd wound up with a triple. After Geovany Soto was called out on strikes, Tony Campana was intentionally walked.
Think about that. Campana, who has no power and rarely walks (just four walks in 87 PA before today), took an IBB. It was the first of his career. It may very well be the last. He advanced to second on defensive indifference -- it could have been ruled a stolen base, but was recorded as DI because the Astros weren't holding him -- which led to another intentional walk, to Barney.
That made four IBB's in the game, which makes this only the fifth major league game all year with four or more intentional passes. MLB averages about five games a year with four or more IBB's, so that makes this wacky game even more unusual. I figured a walkoff wild pitch, balk or walk was coming, but with a 3-2 count, pinch-hitter Jeff Baker lined a single to left to win it.
The team celebrated as if they'd won the division, or something more important than three games won in a row. Pat Hughes' radio call made it sound momentous. Maybe it was. I'll close with this: I cannot, as usual, reveal sources, nor specifics. However, things I heard today lead me to believe that the Cubs will make at least one significant move before next Sunday's trading deadline, and maybe more. You have probably read the speculation about Kosuke Fukudome possibly going to the Indians; that's the one thing I can tell you I also heard. There are other rumors that sound like they very well could happen. Feel free to speculate -- I won't confirm anything, other than it appears to me that the team is ready to make moves. Should be an interesting week.